Kerry Coombs and the Prime Directive

This topic is a bit old, but since I just started this operation I think it is a good idea to take a look at the football staff that Butch Jones has compiled, but one guy in particular.

Kerry Coombs is hands down the most important person that Jones retained. Recruiting is the life blood of any Football program in terms of developing and maintaining success of prolonged periods of time. While I tend to think that most of the people who have made it their business evaluate 18 year old kids on the basis of the potential level of performance they can have when they reach physical maturity are abject morons. On a micro level they miss far more often then they hit, however on a macro level they are much more successful. That is hardly a secret, many a blog has devoted large amounts of time to defending recruiting  industry. And the numbers do tend to speak for themselves.

Generally speaking the more rivals points you accumulate with your recruiting class for a given year the higher level of success that you will have. For much of this decade UC has been the exception that rule. Rick Minter, Mark Dantonio  and Brian Kelly all thrived by taking under the radar players and developing them into something more. If you think of the best players at UC over the last 5 or 6 years most of them were not very highly touted prospects. Brent Celek, 2 stars Haruki Nakamura, 2 stars Deangelo Smith, 2 stars Mike Mickens, 2 stars Connor Barwin, 2 stars Mardy Gilyard, 2 stars. The UC Football program has had a tremendous run of success over the last half of this decade, and it has been accomplished by taking less polished, or less prepared Football players in the recruiting classes of Minter and Dantonio and Kelly to a lesser extent and throwing a red shirt on them, locking them in the weight room and waiting a couple of years for those classes to bring their arms to bear. That is a fine idea, and it clearly worked for UC in the short run. However there are some potential pratfalls when this approach is used in the long run.

In recruiting game theory there are two main strategies. One is to place an emphasis on bringing in players that can compete right away every single year. By bringing in those types of players year after year an extremely competitive environment is created. That is what the top programs do, they generate player development through fire. The other strategy is to in essence red shirt every single player on the roster and to allow them to develop over time. It is a far more incremental approach to player development.

When Brian Kelly landed at Lunken Airport in the winter of 2006 UC was firmly rooted in the red shirt strategy. But Kelly knew two things, one that everyone knew, and one that was a little more hard to identify. The first is that Cincinnati is a hotbed of Football talent, not just in the state of Ohio, but nationally as well. That was the fact that everyone knew. The other was that UC needed to shift its recruiting strategy if the Football program was to reach its potential. Kelly wanted to put a fence around Cincinnati while at the same time targeting a higher caliber recruit than Dantonio or Minter had done. That became the prime directive of UC’s recruiting efforts. His point man for the job became Kerry Coombs.

The difference in recruiting efforts became apparent almost immediately.

Recruiting Classes
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
2 star 15 24 18 17 18 15 12
3 star 1 1 1 6 6 8 10
4 star 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
Rivals Points 97 65 59 90 230 430 490

2007 was the first class brought in by the Kelly regime, and the difference between the Kelly era and the previous ones was spelled out pretty emphatically. The biggest reason for the uptick in recruiting has a lot to do with Kerry Coombs. He is still a legend in high school circles in this area and around the state, and because of that he commands a great deal of attention and respect from local coaches as a member of the UC staff, regardless of their opinions of his rather bombastic personality from his days as the head coach at Colerain High School. The change over on the UC coaching staff could have created some problems between the program and the local high school coaches. There are some people who are and were upset with the manner of Kelly’s departure, and that could have a negative impact on recruiting. But having a guy like Coombs who has so much respect in the community should help address some of those potential issues.

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